European Court of Auditors

06/29/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/29/2021 09:17

Unhappy landings: EU air passenger rights fall by the wayside during the pandemic

Air passengers' rights have not been safeguarded in the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Airlines are legally required to give passengers their money back if they cancel flights. But many airlines forced their customers to accept vouchers, instead, a practice which is unlawful. The EU auditors also point out that airlines and package-tour operators received billions of euros of state aid, aid which was provided without being conditional on passengers being reimbursed.

EU air transport has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions - often imposed in an uncoordinated manner by Member States - led to 7 000 air routes being closed in the European airport network; flight cancellations affected tens of millions of passengers in the EU between March 2020 and March 2021. In cases like this, EU law gives air passengers the right to have their cancelled flight tickets reimbursed or their cancelled trips rerouted. At the same time, the unexpected discontinuation of flights caused sudden and serious liquidity problems for airlines and package-tour operators. Many Member States quickly stepped in, granting unprecedented levels of state aid to allow them to continue operating, and to rescue them from potential bankruptcy.

'Among its many consequences, the pandemic has had a harmful effect on EU air passenger rights', said Annemie Turtelboom, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. 'While every effort has been made to support airlines and package-tour operators, far too little has been done to secure the rights of millions of people in the EU.'